v Oldham Athletic, Division 2
Wednesday, December 26th 2001, 3pm
By Lee Roberts
At long last the finishing line
was in sight - one more ground to visit to complete all 92 in the English
Premiership and Football League. The last stop on my list was Blackpool's
Bloomfield Road stadium. This wouldn't necessarily have been my first
choice at where to mark such a personal achievement, however the closure of half
of the stadium throughout last year or so whilst redevelopment work was carried
out saw me delay my trip to the seaside until the new sections were open.
Although the new stands at Bloomfield Road weren't quite ready to accommodate
spectators, a return to Merseyside to spend Christmas with family and friends
and an imminent departure for Norway meant that the Boxing Day fixture
between Blackpool and Oldham Athletic was the occasion on which I'd finish the
Duncan had agreed to accompany me on such a momentous day with his wife
Amanda, so I secured us three tickets for the South Paddock terrace. The
drive from Southport passed by in a blur as I tried to savour every moment of
the day and I caught sight of the floodlights almost at the same time as the
famous Tower and the Big One on the Pleasure Beach. Duncan and Amanda
had arranged to meet me with a few hours to spare before the kick-off as we'd
received an invitation from the club Secretary to view the facilities before the
gates opened. Arriving ahead of schedule I spent 10 minutes or so walking
around the ground and surrounding area. The modern face of the stadium exterior
contrasted greatly with the dilapidated state of the old sections that are still
standing on two sides. I began to consider Bloomfield Road an inspired choice at
which to complete my own 92 as nowhere had the changing face of out football
stadiums been so evident, so stark, than here.
Having safely met up we collected our tickets and enjoyed a brief guided tour of
the stadium, strolling across the pitch and taking photographs at our leisure.
Our host have us a fantastic insight into the behind the scenes dramas that the
Club faced during the construction process and the variety of unforeseen hurdles
that both they and the contractors had to overcome. Although rather behind
schedule the new West (Main) and Spion Kop Stands looked striking with their
tangerine coloured seats. The South Stand and East Paddock, on the other
hand, looked shabby by comparison but - especially in the case of the South
Stand - it would be a sad day when all the old stands are replaced with
identical new variants that are only different from club to club in their colour
of plastic seating.
Our short tour over we headed outside again and enjoyed a few drinks in the
Supporter's Club bar across the road from the South Stand. It was in there
that Duncan and Amanda announced their real reason for driving to Blackpool
on Boxing Day - they had arranged for a pitch side presentation to
commemorate my visit to the 92nd ground. All of a sudden my excitement
turned to nerves; would people laugh at me? Would the crowd care? But
in an instant I again thought that I'd made the right choice in Bloomfield
Road - if I felt this nervous having to face a crowd of a few thousand, how
nervous would I have felt in front of a large audience at one of the bigger
venues? At the pre-arranged time we finished our dinks and returned to the
ground where we were met by another club official who took us out onto the
pitch, only this time the ground was no longer empty and the players were
out on the pitch going through their pre-match drills. My initial nerves
subsided as I stepped forward to receive an engraved trophy to mark the occasion
from the Youth Team coach of Blackpool FC. Some seasonal spirit was dished
out from the crowd as the PA announcer introduced me and my achievement which
was greeted with - to my surprise! - warm applause.
Strangely, we exited the ground for the second time before re-entering
officially for the first time through the turnstiles. The South Paddock was
showing it's age but perhaps we visited on the wrong day. With the
capacity limited through the redevelopment at the opposite ends of the ground,
supporters were crammed into the South Stand and East Paddock and the bumper
holiday attendance only served to squeeze even more in. That meant that a decent
view was in exchange for a lack of standing space but that didn't bother me.
With my trophy under my arm and the prized ticket stub safely tucked away in my
pocket I merely savoured every minute of the 90. Not even the huge queues
at the solitary refreshment hut at half time which meant that all the pies and
coffee had gone by the time I reached the front could dampen my spirits.
The same couldn't be said of
the home fans who grew even more frustrated by their team's performance as the
match drew on. A couple of clinical finishes from Oldham players during the
second half saw all three points head to east Lancashire. It wasn't a
great game to warm the souls on a chilly December afternoon but I couldn't
expect everything to be perfect. They eyes of the home fans may have even
started to stray from their teams' desperate efforts to salvage the afternoon to
the towering stands that were nearing completion. I remember many years ago
whilst growing up in Southport watching numerous news reports of the then
Blackpool owner - and now disgraced - Owen Oyston proudly displaying his visions
of the future for Blackpool FC. As I'd witnessed at grounds all over the
country, progress in the form of new stands cannot be stopped. It's just a
shame that designers can't replicate the individuality of the old facades
at many of our grounds within their modern replacements.
I had listened to Duncan for a long time beforehand waxing
lyrical about making the day one to remember as he had done down at
Brighton. However, I can never thank both his wife but more so
himself enough for making me really feel that I had, indeed, achieved something.
I'd also like to extend those sentiments to the friendly staff of Blackpool FC
who proved to be the perfect hosts for the day and I left there glad that I had
been made to feel welcome on my special day. For that and the fact
that it was my last ground in doing the 92, Bloomfield Road will
always hold a special aura for me from now on."
an away or general football fan who has visited Bloomfield Road recently?
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Updated: 21 January,